I thought I’d slip in a London restaurant review inbetween my posts on China although Hunan is a Chinese restaurant. It’s a bit posh as you might expect with a Pimlico Road address and being 2 minutes from Sloane Square tube.
Famously (or infamously), there is no menu here and you leave yourself at the mercy of the chef although you are given a chance to state your dislikes. Although we knew there’d be dishes we might not like, we said ‘bring it on’ albeit politely, we were in Belgravia after all.
The lack of menu is compensated by a weighty wine list. We ordered a 2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner (£29) which swiftly arrived with some nibbles of nuts, kimchi and cucumber. I’m no wine expert but I thought it complemented the food very well.
Not long after, the first of what turned out to be 16 courses arrived. Everybody loved the minced pork & ginger soup served in a bamboo mini-keg and the lettuce wrap with minced chicken was also well received if a tad generic.
The next course was described as water-cooked pork dumpling (shui jian bao). With it‘s crispy bottom and vinegar dip, it reminded me a bit of the sheng jian bao I had in Shanghai although these dumplings were soupless.I’m sure I’d have liked these more if I hadn’t just returned from China but I couldn’t help comparing them to the dumplings in Shanghai. Although I was a tad disappointed, no one else was.
A quick succession of dishes then arrived, salmon rolls, crispy beans with chilli, jellyfish rolls, pig’s ears & pig’s tongue and king prawn & minced pork rolls. Of these dishes, the crispy beans were the star turn with its moreish light tempura batter. The pig’s ear didn’t have many fans although the accompanying pig’s tongue was wolfed down.
My personal favourite was served next, spicy frogs legs, which reminded me of a similar dish I once had in a Hunanese restaurant in Beijing. The legs had a light crispy coating and were served with bamboo shoots, chilli and spring onion.The next dish was easily the worse of the evening. The chilli beef was like a refugee from a bad take away, tough chewy beef served in a gloopy sauce.
After the beef nightmare, things picked up with the steamed duck with ginger and spinach rolls. Then some more offal in the form of Chinese 'haggis', well that’s what the waiter called it after we sent him back to find out.
We weren’t sure what this dish consisted of but we weren’t fans of the texture. The chilli sauce it was served with was also too potent overpowering the taste of the dish. None of us really liked it although it was more to do with personal taste rather than the dish being a complete nightmare like the beef.
It was at this point (13 courses in) that we asked to stop. However, we were told there would be two more courses. The fried baby squid was spoiled a bit by its sauce but I have no complaints about the excellent steamed scallops served on top of cucumber filled with minced pork and topped with garlic.So after 15 rounds, we said ‘no mas’ and asked about dessert. I’m not sure if we were allowed to choose but we only asked for the toffee apple with ice cream and toffee banana with ice cream with the emphasis on ice cream. Anyway the one dessert we didn’t want was brought out on the basis it was more ‘Chinese’. It undoubtedly was but we did say we didn’t want it. The rogue dessert was sent back and our order was wheeled out but without the ice cream. If I gave marks out of ten, I’d deduct a point for this slightly farcical end to our meal.
The only other (minor) grumble was the inadequate description of the dishes in English or Chinese. If you’re serving what is essentially a tasting menu, it’d be nice to have an description of each dish and in some cases how best to eat it. It’d also have been good to be given more warning as to when we might want to stop.
Dinner for four cost £240 including two bottles of wine and 12.5% service. If you describe it as a Chinese meal then it seems pricey but if you think of it as a tasting menu in a Belgravia restaurant, it seems reasonable.
Lastly, many thanks to my dining companions. It was my first grown-up London restaurant review and I hope the photography, incessant questioning and note making weren’t too intrusive.
Verdict: I enjoyed the element of surprise at Hunan but it isn't somewhere you'd return to regularly unless you had deep pockets. Having said that it's worth going for a special occasion or a smart business dinner.